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Johnson takes the gavel

Republicans unite around new House speaker

Rep. Mike Johnson (right) shakes hands with House Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry on Wednesday. Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon

Johnson takes the gavel

WASHINGTON—Last week, Rep. Mike Johnson paused before heading into an elevator in the U.S. Capitol. He had just come from a failed vote to nominate Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to fill the vacant speaker chair.

“We just had a lot of issues to work through as a conference,” he told me. “We’re working on it. We’ll get everybody unified. I’m confident we will.”

A week later on Wednesday, the conference unified around Johnson himself.

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, 51, often sits at one of the two Republican leadership tables in the House of Representatives, counting votes and helping the whips garner support. But aside from where he sits, Americans don’t know much about the lawmaker from Louisiana with the tortoise-shell glasses. For the past 22 days, the Republican conference has shuffled through multiple House speaker nominees after ousting Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. On Wednesday, Johnson won enough votes on the House floor to take the speaker’s gavel. So what can voters expect from Speaker Johnson?

What political experience does he have? Johnson was elected to the U.S. House in 2017, representing Louisiana’s solidly Republican 4th District, and is up for reelection next year. He is the vice chair for the Republican Conference, which is one of seven elected leadership positions in the House GOP ranks. In this role, Johnson advances leadership priorities and directs the other Republican members on how to vote. He also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the new Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. He also previously chaired the Republican Study Committee. While not a stranger to the House, Johnson will likely have a learning curve. He is not a heavy hitter on the fundraising front, which is vital for the party’s election chances next year. He said that he has ideas for coalition-building, but he does not have a vast network of connections like McCarthy or House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

What is on his resume? Before entering public office, Johnson was an attorney with Alliance Defense Fund, now the Alliance Defending Freedom. According to his website, he has litigated several right-to-life, religious liberty, free speech, and Second Amendment cases. Johnson drew on that legal experience to file an amicus brief with more than 100 other House Republicans in support of a 2020 Texas lawsuit that claimed the election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were not legitimate. Johnson was also on former President Donald Trump’s legal defense team during the 2019 and 2020 Senate impeachment trials, both of which ended in the president’s acquittal. Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., nominated House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries for speaker on Wednesday. Aguilar criticized Johnson’s record and ties to Trump.

“This has been about one thing, this is about who can appease Donald Trump,” he said from the floor. “House Democrats believe that when members of the body voted to reject the results of the 2020 election, they forfeited their ability to lead this chamber.”

What is Johnson’s voting record? In 2022, Johnson told GOP lawmakers that their votes on the Respect for Marriage Act was “a matter of personal conscience.” The bill codified same-sex marriage with few religious liberty protections. Johnson personally voted against it, while 39 other Republicans supported it. Earlier this month, he voted against ousting McCarthy as House speaker. Johnson also voted against the short-term funding bill that prevented a government shutdown last month. He has frequently voted for pro-life measures, as well as protections for women in sports.

What will he do first as speaker? Johnson dodged questions on Tuesday night about what his legislative priorities will be. “We’re not talking policy,” he said after a reporter asked if he would support funding for Ukraine. Because he has not been in a top leadership role like McCarthy or Scalise, less is known about his policy positions. In 2018, he circulated a fact sheet listing what he sees as the “7 Core Principles of Conservatism.” Those include limited government, free markets, and the importance of the family. On Tuesday night, he said a top concern will be “standing with our ally Israel.”

Why did Republicans choose him? Lawmakers told reporters that even though Johnson was not a first choice, he was the last one standing.

“You know what, this is our guy,” Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told reporters on Tuesday after switching his vote from Rep. Byron Donalds to Johnson. “A level of exhaustion and frustration helped him get the numbers.”

“Democracy is… not pretty, but the product is good,” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., told me on the U.S. Capitol steps after the speaker election. “Mike Johnson is a quality person. And you saw the rapt attention that he had, both in the chambers that he had last night and behind closed doors, and then he had out here. He has core values, you can trust him, and we’ll get ready to go to work for him.”

Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., supported the motion to vacate the chair and remove McCarthy. He echoed a common theme among the conference that Johnson has earned the trust of the members.

“The man has got a faith and integrity that is basically unsurpassed by anyone that we’ve had,” Rosendale told me.

What is his personal background? Johnson has said he is a Christian in the Southern Baptist denomination. He was a trustee of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission from 2014 to 2017. His wife is a Christian counselor, and they have four children. Johnson and his family live in Louisiana’s Bossier Parish.

What’s next? Johnson said in his opening speech and on the Capitol steps that the majority is ready to get back to business. He said he is dispensing with new speakership ceremonies and immediately reconvened the chamber to pass a resolution supporting Israel.

“We went through a lot to get here,” Johnson said on the Capitol steps. “But we are ready to govern. And that will begin right away.”

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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